For Bedtime Stories, Kids Turn to the Stars

Sting is known as a tantric sex guru. John Lithgow has been to the Twilight Zone and back. And Jamie Lee Curtis will always be a "scream queen" thanks to her role in Halloween.

They may not be every parent's ideal role model for their kids, but these celebrities and a host of others are using their high-profile names for a new gig: to become children's book authors.

That leaves people like Will Smith, whose book Just the Two of Us was released in time for Father's Day, changing his tune since he griped "parents just don't understand" in the 1988 pop hit that made him famous.

"It's an easy way to get strong name recognition and help parents choose out of the average 6,000 children's books published a year," said Jennifer Brown, children's books forecasts editor at Publishers Weekly magazine.

Authors range from sharp-tongued Judge Judy Sheindlin to the controversial Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Other kids' book celebs include Today co-anchor Katie Couric, country singer Rosanne Cash, actors Kirk Douglas and Dom DeLuise, singers Carly Simon and Dolly Parton, and even Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

Those familiar with the trend say publishers often approach the stars because of the power behind their names.

"You can sell a lot of books because it's high-profile especially if the celebrity is doing a lot of grandstanding for it," said Allison Devlin, spokesman for HarperCollins Children's.

Cash, daughter of country and western legend Johnny Cash, said in an interview she was approached by HarperCollins but had already written the book Penelope Jane: A Fairy's Tale for her little girl, Carrie.

In the story, published last year, Penelope Jane is a French fairy who is "tall as an eyelash, quick as a plane."

"I made up a story for my daughter, who was then five," Cash said. "She couldn't sleep at night, so I made up this character, this fairy, who lived in her dresser drawer and could keep her company."

Carrie begged Cash who has three other children and a stepdaughter to share the tale with the world. Cash obliged and now sells the book with a CD of her song "How to Be Strong."

"The world is a really scary place for little people," Cash said, explaining the book's and song's message. "The first source of strength they can tap into is being themselves."

Brown believes celebrity authors might be more for parents than kids since children are unlikely to know who the stars are.

"If you have to read a book over and over and over, you want to make sure it's a book you enjoy," she said.

But star-studded children's authors aren't immune to the critics. They have also met with varying degrees of commercial success.

Curtis' first children's book, When I Was Little, has been in print since it was published in 1993. Her more recent Where Do Balloons Go? remains on the best-seller list.

"Where do balloons go? It's a mystery, I know. So just hold on tight til you have to let go," writes Curtis.

Lithgow's The Remarkable Farkle McBride has also been widely praised.

"When Farkle was five, his melodical gift once again bore rhapsodical fruit: The woodwinds inspired his spirits to lift and he rapidly mastered the flute," Lithgow writes.

The actor, who also performs children's songs, told his publisher Simon & Schuster the Farkle story was originally a piece he sang for kids.

"I've sort of stumbled into the role of a children's book author," he said in the interview. "I wrote the words to be spoken out loud, as the best children's books should be. And I suppose I always intended to be the primary reader."

He isn't the only one to turn song lyrics into children's tales. Smith did that with Just the Two of Us, a rap song he sings about a father-son relationship. And Sting turned his Noah's Ark song "Rock Steady" into a kids' book too.

But Fergie fared less well. Her Budgie the Helicopter series has gone out of print.

"People buy them in the beginning because of the celebrity name," said Tracy van Straaten, director of publicity at Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. "But they don't always endure or stay in print."

Publishers like Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins report that of the 500 new children's titles they put out every year, only about five are written by stars.

Whatever the reason the rich and famous are channeling their creativity into children's literature, it's a trend that's caught on because of the popularity of the genre.

"Children's books are fairly hot now," said Michael Jacobs, senior vice president of the trade division at Scholastic Press which published the Smith book. "Celebrities are seeing it as a good way to get some positive messages out."